UAE triathlete Faris Al Zaabi makes winning return at Iberian and Portuguese National Middle Distance Championship

Emirati had not competed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic

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Emirati triathlete Faris Al Zaabi made a successful return to action for the first time in more than seven months since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Representing his Spanish club Tri Penta Terras de Lugo, he took first place in the 25-29 age group and placed seventh overall in a field of 116 in the Iberian and Portuguese National Championship in Caminha, Portugal, last Saturday.

Al Zaabi could have finished in a better overall position in the Olympic distance, consisting of a 1,400 meter swim, 44 km bike and 11 km run, if he hadn’t suffered technical issues on the cycling leg.

"Given that it was a non-draft legal triathlon race, I borrowed a triathlon bike from my friend as I typically travel with my road bike," Al Zaabi, whose most recent race prior to Saturday was at the European Duathlon Championships in March, told The National.

“Unfortunately, I had a technical issue with the brakes. The brake pads were rubbing on my back wheel during the bike segment, which cost me a lot of time.

“I was able to make up on the run and ran the race's fastest run split. I am still happy with the result and feel privileged to be back on a start line after not competing for seven months. This race jump-started my system.”

Spain was one of the hotspots of the pandemic and like most international athletes, Al Zaabi’s training schedule was curtailed during lockdown.

“The most important thing for me during lockdown was to focus on what I could control, which was to stay safe,” Al Zaabi said.

“When pools and running tracks were closed during the National Sterilisation Program, I resorted to indoor cycling on my turbo trainer.

“The goal was to improve and stimulate my physiology by cross-training. As restrictions were progressively lifted, I capitalised the windows of opportunities where we were allowed to leave our homes.

“Consistency is key. For me, it is important to be constantly competing and evolving against the best version of myself.”

With the first test passed, Al Zaabi is now closely monitoring the race calendar for the rest of the year.

“There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment,” he said. “The next two races on my calendar are the Spanish Triathlon Sprint Championships for Clubs in Aguilas and the Spanish Duathlon Championships in Soria.

“I was supposed to compete at the Sanya Asian Beach Games with the national team but that has shifted to April 2021. That will be an important race for 2021.”

Al Zaabi, 27, opted to pursue a career as a full time triathlete in August 2017 after completing a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Victoria, in Canada.

While he continues to train as a professional athlete, Al Zaabi has also started his Master's in Sports Industry Management at Georgetown University in the United States.

“Although classes are virtual at the moment due to the Coronavirus, I am really enjoying the program,” he said.

“I believe the global sports industry has an opportunity to re-evaluate and rebuild itself. It is nice to see women's sports gaining momentum and the growing impact of inclusion and diversity in professional and amateur sport. There is no doubt sport is a vehicle for social change.”